Summer Holidays are officially here and yes it is rather hot outside. All winter long we wish for this weather and often travel to the Caribbean or other warmer climates to seek this weather so let’s do our best to get out and enjoy summer. Having said that it is important to plan according so you do not end up with any of the heat related emergency below.
Before we look at the different types of heat related emergencies there are a few basic terms we should be familiar with.
Dehydration: In basic terms when our bodies free water loss exceeds its free water intake often caused by exercise, high surrounding temperature or disease.
|% of Water Loss in the Body||Effect on the body|
|3-4%||Most people can tolerate without difficulty|
|5-8%||Fatigue and dizziness|
|10+%||Extreme thirst, Mental and Physical Deterioration|
|15-25%||Death is possible|
Mild dehydration is often resolved with water but moderate to severe dehydration may require electrolyte supplements either orally or via intravenous (IV) if needed.
Electrolytes: In basic terms electrolytes are electrically charged components that bond to the inside and outside of body cells to allow them to function properly. Water follows the movement of these electrically charged components inside and outside our cells the keep things in balance. Too much fluid on the outside, the cell will collapse. Too much fluid on the inside and the cell will explode. Electrolytes help to maintain a healthy balance. Common electrolytes our bodies uses include, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Hydrogen and Bicarbonate. Feel free to google more on each of these if you are curious.
Common electrolyte replacement drinks include sport drinks, coconut water, juice and milk. There are also many forms of powders or tablets that can be added to water to add the electrolyte component. Be cautious using salt tablets as they can often increase fluid loss and worsen the persons condition.
Now that we understand a few basics we can look at our three main heat related emergencies. Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Heat Cramps: Like the name indicates, muscle cramps and severe spasms often in the legs and abdomen caused by loss of fluids and electrolytes typically caused by exercise and sweating. First aid guidelines include:
- Moving them to a cooler environment and removed excess clothing
- Hydrate!!! Electrolytes if possible or water if that is all available. (Avoid salt tablets that can lead to further fluid loss)
- Have the person stretch and massage the cramped muscles
Activity can be resumed once cramping has stopped.
Heat Exhaustion: Occurs when the body begins to overheat typically due to loss of fluids and electrolytes greater than what the body is taking in. This is an early indicator that the person’s body temperature regulating system is beginning to be overwhelmed. If not managed this can lead the life threatening heat stroke. As more blood flows to the persons outer body the help cool the core the person may experience shock like symptoms including flushed red skin turning to pale or grey, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache, excessive thirst, fainting and as the name indicates complete exhaustion. First aid guidelines include:
- Remove from heat and remove excess clothing
- Hydrate!!! Electrolytes if possible or water if that is all available. (Be cautious with fluids if there is a decrease in responsiveness to avoid choking)
- Water on the skin to assist with evaporation cooling and cool packs in core areas of the body.
- Encourage person to rest for the reminder of the day
- 911 may be needed in some instances
Heat Stroke: Is a life threatening condition in where the body’s internal cooling mechanisms begin to fail and are overwhelmed. The body stops sweating because internal fluid levels are too low which causes a rapid increase in internal core temperature. Essentially the body begins to cook up on the inside. Vital organs begin to fail and unconsciousness, seizures and even death are all possible if not immediately dealt with. Initial indicators include red, hot dry skin, irritable bizarre behaviour, rapid noisy breathing. Immediate first aid measures include:
- Call 911
- Active, aggressive cooling.
- If possible immerse entire body up to neck in cool water
- Immerse arms and hands in cool water
- Water on the body and fan them down
- Cool packs in core areas of body
- Have them drink fluids if they are responsive and can swallow
For tips on Preventing Heat Related Emergencies visit the Canadian Red Cross First Aid Tips and Resources Page.